This weekend, I hosted a reunion of sorts — removing tender bulbs out of storage and reintroducing them to the garden.
Each fall, right before the first frost, I cut back my tender plants, dig them up, cure them, and place them in paper bags along with peat moss to cover. It’s actually a tough thing to do. The plants are still full of life. We’ve spent so much time together. And then I have to be the mean girl, decimating the friendship just when they thought they could trust me. Cold and heartless doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.
Once hacked and packed, I carry them into the bomb shelter. My house was built in the ’60s, and behind a closet and under the front steps, there is a cement crawlspace, a bunker which we refer to as the bomb shelter. It’s cool and dry all winter, conditions that allow the tenders to go dormant.
My effort to trick nature and turn Long Island into a summer tropical paradise began several years ago when a friend gave me a brown paper bag with canna rhizomes. She said just keep them in the garage and plant them in the spring. That didn’t work. The garage was too cold and too damp, and when spring arrived, I had a bag of smelly and shriveled canna.
That’s one of the many things I love about gardening. The mistakes. Mistakes are there to help us to learn and to try and to keep moving forward. I read a few books, made a few more tries, and figured out what worked best for me. I had more success with peat moss than perlite. My tries with dahlias were hits and misses — make that lots of misses. But the canna and elephant ears were practically indestructible!
It amazes me to think that as Joe and I go about our winter routine, shoveling snow, cleaning house, escaping to Florida, going to work, these plants are living in darkness. Sleeping. Holding on for spring, when they can feel the warmth and do what they were meant to do: bloom.
Gardeners are like tender bulbs. Maybe in the same way that people begin to look like their pets, maybe we also become the plants that we love. We spend the winter months combing over catalogs and viewing gardening shows, forcing amaryllis to bloom, dreaming of colors and foliage and home-grown vegetables, drawing out plans for new beds, anything to keep our gardening spirit alive. And we do this because we’re all waiting for the promise of spring, when we can emerge from our homes, feel the warmth of the sun, and bloom.
So, this was the weekend that the bunker was opened, and I carried out bag after bag of tender bulbs. At this stage, I have limited myself to the most successful ones: elephant ears and canna.
It was a long day of work. Lifting bags. Sorting bulbs and rhizomes. Planting. Watering. And looking forward to the day when they sprout, grow, and flower. I know we’ll have a beautiful summer together, as we become reacquainted with our routines: watering, deadheading . . .
Deadheading. Hmmm. That reminds me. These poor plants have no idea that in about five months, I’m going to turn on them again.